It is sometimes helpful to take a step back, observe, and then logically generalize the extremes of the observed facts; if possible, without judging people’s behavior as there’s more to it as the eyes can perceive. In some cases however one can feel that the observed situations are really close to extreme. It’s the case of some tendencies met in project planning — not planning, planning for the sake of planning, expecting a plan to be perfect, setting a plan as fix, without the possibility of changing it in utile time, respectively changing the plan too often.
There are situations in which it’s better to be spontaneous and go with the flow. Managing a project isn’t one of these situations. As Lakein’s Law formulates it succinctly: “failing to plan is planning to fail”, or paraphrasing Eisenhower (1) and Clausewitz (2) — plans are useless as no plan ever survived contact with the enemy (reality), but planning is indispensable — as a plan increases awareness about project’s scope, actions, challenges, risks and opportunities, and allows devising the tactics and logistics needed to reach the set goals. Even if the plan doesn’t reflect anymore the reality, it can still be adapted to fit the new requirements. The more planning experience one has the more natural it becomes to close the gap between the initial plan and reality, and of adapting the plan as needed.
There’s an important difference between doing something because one is forced to do it and doing it because one sees and understands the value of planning. There’s the tendency to plan for the sake of planning, because there’s the compel to do it. Besides the fact that it documents the what, when, why and who, and that is used as a basis for action, the plan must reflect project’s current status and the activities planed for the next reporting cycle. As soon a plan is not able to reflect these aspects it becomes thus in time unusable.
The enemy of a good plan can prove to be the dream of a perfect plan (3). Some may think that the holy grail of planning is the perfect plan, that the project can’t start until all the activities were listed to the lowest detail and the effort thoroughly assigned. Few plans actually survive the contact with the reality and there can be lot of energy lost by working on the perfect plan.
Another similar behavior, rooted mainly in the methodologies used, is that of not allowing a plan to be changed for a part or whole duration of the project. Publilius Syrus recognized more than two millennia ago that a plan that admits no modification is a bad plan (4) per se. Methodologies and practices that don’t allow a flexible way of changing the plan make no service to projects. Often changes need to occur immediately and not at an ideal point in time, when maybe the effect is lost.
Modern Project Management tools allow building the dependencies between the various activities and it’s inevitable that a change in one place will cause a chain reaction and lead to a contraction or dilatation of the plan, and this can happen with each planning iteration. In extremis the end date will alternate as the lines of a seismograph during an earthquake. It’s natural for this to happen in projects in a first phase, however it’s in Project Manager’s attribution to mitigate such variations.
The project plan is a reflection of the project and how it’s managed, therefore, one needs to give it the proper focus, how often and how detailed required.
(1) “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable” (Eisenhower quoted by Nixon)
(2) “No plan ever survived contact with the enemy.” (Carl von Clausewitz)
(3) “The enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan.” (Carl von Clausewitz)
(4) “It’s a bad plan that admits of no modification.” (Publilius Syrus)
® Originally published on sql-troubles